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Open Letter on Domes status from Park Director

Dear Milwaukee County Community Residents,

The staff of the Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation, & Culture (Parks Department) wanted to update you on an important Parks asset recently in the news: The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, also known as The Domes.

As you likely know, the three domes are temporarily closed due to a public safety issue. Parks staff recently discovered pieces of concrete on the floor of the Arid Dome that appear to have fallen from the facility’s frame. While the structure itself remains safe, even small pieces of concrete can create a safety hazard when falling from a great height.

Our Short-term Objective: Open the Show Dome by May 1st; the Remaining Domes, by No Later Than Year’s End.

In February, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced a $1 million short-term plan that will allow the County to safely reopen the Show Dome by May 1st. The work on the Show Dome would be a temporary fix that is anticipated to be sustainable over the next five years.

After reopening the Show Dome, work is then expected to begin on the Arid and Tropical domes so that they may be reopened later this year. Of course, this plan is contingent on approval for additional funding from the Milwaukee County Board. We are hopeful that County Board Supervisors will approve the additional funding so that the work can quickly get underway.

Our Long-term Goal: Seek Broad Community Engagement to Shape the Long-term Vision of the Mitchell Park Conservatory.

The Parks Department short-term objective is to do what it takes to reopen all three domes while we focus on the community’s vision for the Mitchell Park Conservatory’s next 50 years. We in the Parks Department believe it is critical that our community engages in a discussion to consider a long-term plan not only for The Domes, but also for the many Milwaukee County parks and cultural assets.

The Milwaukee County Board held a public hearing at the Mitchell Park Conservatory on February 24th. This public hearing gave the Parks Department and the Facilities Division the opportunity to present an overview of the condition of The Domes and the potential investment that may be needed for the long run.

Additionally, the Parks Department is in the process on contracting with an organization which will help facilitate a series of community discussions through events at various venues across Milwaukee County. Recognizing the significance of this important, thoughtful, collaborative, and robust discussion, we ask for both your commitment and patience as this process gets underway. Investing a little more time up front to get this once-in-a-lifetime decision right will pay dividends for the community for years to come.

For Now, Get Connected and Prepare for Community Engagement.

Our initial effort is simply to try to keep you informed. The Milwaukee County website now contains a page that not only provides you with updates on The Domes, but also provides historical information and links to the February Public Hearing, comprehensive inspections, repairs, and engineering reports. Visit http://county.milwaukee.gov/Domes.

The Domes are actually the second conservatory to be located in Mitchell Park. Before The Domes, there was a Victorian-style conservatory that, after about 50 years, wasn’t safe anymore. Now, about 50 years into the life of The Domes, we’re facing a similar challenge.

Whatever happens next at The Domes is going to cost a lot of money – the high estimate for refurbishing The Domes is $65-75 million. Therefore, it is important that we take our time to ensure that we spend taxpayer dollars on a plan that best represents the community’s wishes.

Seeing an institution that we all love in this situation is challenging, but it also offers an exciting opportunity to come together as a community and plan for the future. The Parks Department is committed to engaging the community and we look forward to your participation.

Please feel free to contact the Parks Department’s office at (414) 257-PARK (7275) or to email us at ParksDirector@milwaukeecountywi.gov regarding this issue—or any other issue—you feel needs my attention.

Best Regards,

John Dargle
Director
Milwaukee County Parks, Recreation & Culture

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